Protecting Our Children With a Safe Environment
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and it is a reminder to all Catholics that the ultimate responsibility of any adult is to ensure that abuse does not occur. In an effort to make child safety and prevention of abuse a priority, we hear from Michael Craig, Director of the Office of Safe Environment for the Diocese of St. Petersburg during a Q and A that will air on Spirit FM 90.5.
What does the Safe Environment Office do?
We fingerprint volunteers and all of the employees throughout the Diocese of St. Petersburg. We are also in charge of the Safe Environment Program for the training of volunteers and employees. We do that to ensure the safety of all vulnerable adults and children throughout the Diocese. It's our mission to make sure that everyone's safe.
Does this include even priests and even our bishop?
Yes, Bishop Parks has been fingerprinted and so have all the priests and deacons throughout our Diocese.
What’s the content of the training material?
We're looking to educate people about the tactics of a person grooming an individual. We give people tips, such as, if you suspect something, ask questions. Be aware of your surroundings. Be on the lookout to protect as many children and vulnerable adults as you can. We also give warning signs to look for, ranging from bruising on the arms or on the face to disheveled appearance.
Do you know how many people have been trained in our diocese?
Last I checked, we have well over 30,000 fingerprints on file of individuals. We have done 45,000 trainings of some sort, whether it's for Safe Environment training, defensive driving, blood borne pathogens, or how to make a proper report to the authorities and what the steps are.
What are about some of the ways that families can protect children?
Be on the lookout, be aware of the warning signs. Be aware of the tactics that perpetrators use to take our children away from us to abuse our children.
Isn't one of the tactics of perpetrators to tell their victims to keep things secret. Tell us about that.
That's one of the grooming tactics that perpetrators use. They will tell a child, “You're my favorite. I'm going to tell you a secret, but you can't tell it to anyone else.” As a as a parent, we need to be on the lookout for our children hiding things from us. If we feel that they're hiding things from us, then obviously, we need to ask questions. You know, “Hey, what's going on? How are things going in school? Do you have any new friends that I don't know about?” Things like that will help hopefully get your child to open up, to talk to you. Also at the same time, if there is something going on, let your child know that it is not their fault.
It sounds like keeping those lines of communication open are so critical between the parent and the child to make sure that that abuse is not occurring or to be aware if abuse is occurring. So, if somebody is aware of abuse, how do they report that and what do they do?
The state of Florida is what's called a mandatory reporting state. So, if you suspect, if you know of, or if you hear of abuse, you must report it. That can be done several ways. If you know of a child that is in immediate danger, please do not hesitate to call 911 and ask to speak to a detective. They'll ask you some questions, obviously the name, what you suspect, if you have an address for the for the child, and they will go out and do the investigation. There's also an online option that you can go to the Department of Children and Families (DCF) website. You can put in a report anonymously, online. Or, you could also call DCF directly 1-800-96-ABUSE (1-800-962-2873) to report it anonymously. But again, it is something that we have to do. We are required to do it.
How does child abuse prevention connect to our Catholic faith?
As Catholic Christians, we are called to protect every human life from conception until death. We need to take that seriously. I know I take it seriously because I have three children of my own. I would hate for something to happen to my child. That's why I take it extremely seriously. We're called to love in the image of Christ because everyone is made in the image of Christ. That is the reason for protecting our children and our vulnerable adults.